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The Anomalous Archive, Part XXIV: 'Bloomship' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on November 25, 2011.]

"Bloomship," 1st in Issue 9 of The Cross and the Cosmos


Characterizing the template world of the Bermuda Expanse from the "Twin Universes" of The Cross and the Cosmos, G.L. Francis has written an episode that captures what may be the best application of science fiction -- the existence of mystery beyond our experience. The mystery of this story is centered in a feature of the Bermuda Expanse boilerplate -- a gaseous cloud within the Bermuda solar system called the Anomaly. The protagonist's awe of the Anomaly is transferred to an awe of the universe, and of its Creator. The race called JellyFish is brought to life in such a way that they seem bizarre without feeling sinister. Even though the more proper name for this race (in this story) is "Medusaens," these creatures are not necessarily ugly. Like the Anomaly itself, the Medusaens are beyond understanding.

That protagonist…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XXIII: 'Forgotten' by Edward D. Casey

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on July 21, 2011.]

"Forgotten," 3rd in Issue 8 of The Cross and the Cosmos

“Forgotten” by Edward D. Casey contains an interesting hybrid of science fiction ideas. First of all, the futuristic vision and the conception of space travel are realistic and familiar, feeling like an extension of NASA and the current space situation. In fact, Casey seems to be predicting a trend toward corporate space technology that recent news seems to support (I just read an article about the end of the shuttle program). All of this gives the space travel a hard, classic feel.

But the technological device around which the plot is structured is different. I think the concept of faster-than-light travel could fit within the framework of a relatively near-future, hard science fiction, but I wouldn't expect it to be portrayed anything like the way it is in “Forgotten.” Although the story explains that the technology is not brand-new, and ev…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XXII: 'The Siren's Song' by Rebecca Bruner

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on July 19, 2011.]

"The Siren's Song," 2nd in Issue 8 of The Cross and the Cosmos

"The Siren's Sword" by Rebecca D. Bruner is, I think, a full novella, one that feels very professional. It begins with a fairly long prologue that seems almost as strong as the main story. Somewhat reminiscent of G.L. Francis's "Shell" from the previous issue of The Cross and the Cosmos, a second-person imperative voice is seen in a few italicized paragraphs that open and close the prologue section. Unlike in "Shell", this unusual kind of narrative does not carry the bulk of the emotional impact of the story, which makes it hard to interpret in light of the characters who appear in the main body of the story. I wonder if the italicized paragraphs in the prologue are supposed to be a dream of the protagonist, even though such a dream is not mentioned or implied.

That protagonist is a solid, likable …

The Anomalous Archive, Part XXI: 'First Time Mission' by Paul Anobile

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on July 14, 2011.]

"First Time Mission," 1st in Issue 8 of The Cross and the Cosmos

I often have a hard time with time travel plot lines. I generally don't like them, either as the main speculative element or within the confines of a fantasy or science fiction universe. However, recently I've been rethinking this opinion, thanks to a philosophy of time travel that I've seen a couple of times now, including in "First Time Mission" by Paul Anobile.

The way I see it, the hypothetical time travel in "First Time Mission" is fully deterministic. That is, the effect that the time mission would have on the future was pre-determined before the time traveller journeyed into the past, because the time traveller’s mission has already occurred in the time traveller’s own past. Thus, a time traveller could not (as I think happens in Back to the Future) accidentally prevent his parents' …

The Anomalous Archive, Part XX: 'Missions Trip' by John Theo Jr.

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on May 20, 2011.]

"Missions Trip," 3rd in Issue 7 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The implications of this story seem to be beyond me. I don't completely understand the significance of one of the details of the plot. A family of seals make an appearance, but the baby seal dies. This has to be analogous to the main story somehow, but it seems to be very negative. It may simply be expressing that to do God's will requires painful sacrifice, but if that was the only reason for the seals, I think the plot device is unclear and confusing.

There is a lot of well-developed backstory, some of which is explained through dialog (or perhaps more accurately monologue in this story), and some of which is simply told in the narrative. Much of this story's mere three pages is devoted to developing the background of the politics and history that affect the two characters, but all the backstory doesn't really seem to come of…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XIX: 'The Cyborg's Neighbor' by Catherine Bonham

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on May 18, 2011.]

"The Cyborg's Neighbor," 2nd of Issue 7 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The most remarkable thing about this first short story in the latest issue of The Cross and the Cosmos is the way it adapts the parable of the Good Samaritan to show the disparity between true inner holiness and what outwardly is viewed as being good. A very heavy-duty criminal is the most Christian character presented in the narrative, helping the despised outcast out of selfless love. The criminal is fascinating because, although he appears to be unapologetic in his illegal activities, he definitely possess firm moral principals that govern the way he lives, including the way he enacts his disturbing crimes. One of his collaborators in crime is not a career criminal, but rather a member of a very respected profession. This character is explicitly named as a hypocrite in the narrative (not the dialog), and he only ever shows conce…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XVIII: 'Shell' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on May 20, 2011.]

"Shell," 1st in Issue 7 of The Cross and the Cosmos

I've never read a short story like G.L. Francis's "Shell" before! This story is marvellously unique, and it uses its experimental style to amazing effect, producing awe and wonder at the majesty of the same sea that serves as a universal image or symbol is so many writings.

This story is composed of two different kinds of narrative, clearly differentiated from each other. It alternates between a second-person, present-tense story of the discovery of a seashell, and first-person, present-tense accounts of voices of various mythological, Biblical, and historical figures associated with the sea. The second-person narrative is italicized, explicitly separating the frame story from the many internal stories.

This highly unusual form hides many surprises. Not only is the frame story written in second person, making the protagon…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XVII: 'The Strong Survive' by Frank Luke

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on January 12, 2011.]

"The Strong Survive," 2nd in Issue 6 of The Cross and the Cosmos

This story provides another snapshot of the intricate high fantasy world that Frank Luke has created. Everything about the story flows from the well-designed and thoroughly planned fantasy setting. Although the worldbuilding is deep and thorough, the author avoids the pitfall of using made-up names without developing their significance in order to hide a lack of depth, which is a flaw that I think is fairly common in modern high fantasy. A couple place names and two cultures are identified on the very first page of the story in the PDF document, but the seasons have the same names as those in our world. Also, there is a balance between the number of original names and those taken from the standard fantasy conventions and/or traditional mythology. That's about what Tolkien did, so it must be good.

This is not to say …

The Anomalous Archive, Part XVI: 'Capturing Whirlwind' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on January 7, 2011.]

"Capturing Whirlwind," 1st in Issue 6 of The Cross and the Cosmos

This first exposition into the Bermuda Expanse reveals an idealized Christian community through the eyes of a would-be enemy. This short story accomplishes a good amount of characterization for the Bermuda Expanse setting. The Christians of Jerem seem like they came out of the pages of the New Testament, which is interesting to find in a far-future science fiction story, set on a distant planet far away from Earth. They appear to be both pacifistic and somewhat anti-technology, but I suppose that they hold to neither as legalistic restrictions, but rather end up living without both violence and much technology as a result of their lifestyle, based on faith and mutual love. A civilization that has an antique, agrarian style on the edge of known space, is somewhat comparable to the setting of the old TV series Firefly, whic…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XV: 'A Dragon's Freedom' by Carin Marais

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on November 22, 2010.]

"A Dragon's Freedom," 3rd in Issue 5 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Several of the stories in the five published issues of The Cross and the Cosmos have demonstrated the ability of my all-time favorite genre to present the core of an epic story line set in the background of the fantasy world imagined by the author. “Ley of the Minstrel” from Issue 2, “Sunset Over Gunther” from Issue 3, and “The Quest” from Issue 4 have surprised me in this regard. Before I started reading the short stories produced by the Christian speculative fiction community, I assumed that the massive amount of worldbuilding that goes into high fantasy (and also much science fiction) would make the traditional epic plot devices far beyond the scope of the limited number of words that a short story has at its disposal. I had thought that the most a short story in the high fantasy genre could accomplish would be a …

The Anomalous Archive, Part XIV: 'Transit of Gem' by Pete Koziar

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on October 30, 2010.] "Transit of Gem," 2nd in Issue 5 of The Cross and the CosmosIn "Transit of Gem" by Pete Koziar, we have a story with a strong and engaging narrative. I find the premise of the story to be fascinating. The author successfully combines science fiction with Christian prophecy, using an epic-style narrative. There is a lot of profound dialog, reminiscent of the elevated style of Tolkien and older classic high fantasy. I read this story out loud to my ten-year-old sister, and she seemed to like it and to basically understand it.

The prose is not highly refined. The omniscient point-of-view suffers from too much telling too often. The setting is not described with enough details to make the world seem real and tangible in the reader's imagination.

This weakness is especially evident with the characters, which are essentially explained instead of demonstrated. My impression …

The Anomalous Archive, Part XIII: 'Sincerely Simon' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally published on the Anomaly forum on October 15, 2012.]

"Sincerely, Simon: When Violets go Bad," 1st in Issue 5 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Reading "Sincerely, Simon" for me was slightly analogous to listening to most music, especially popular contemporary Christian music. I can see the complexity, the beauty, and the deep significance in music, but I can't quite appreciate it for all that it is worth. I'm not familiar enough with the genres of popular music to evaluate individual pieces very well. I don't follow whatever may be new in the Christian or secular music industries, and I don't even entirely understand the music industry. When I observe friends and family who passionately love music, I think that I do not posses the ability to see all the significance and majesty that music can have. However, I do not dislike music in general, and I see that it is a great and beautiful form of art. So it is with G.…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XII: 'The Quest' by J.L. Rowan

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on June 3, 2010.]
"The Quest," 3rd in Issue 4 of The Cross and the Cosmos
One of the basic, though probably not essential, elements of high fantasy is the "adventure quest" plotline. With some occasional exceptions, most of our favorite high fantasy sagas begin with the protagonist being forced to embark upon a fearful pilgrimage of epic proportions. "The Quest" by J.L. Rowan is built upon the adventure-quest plot archetype, as the title of the story indicates.

This is not to say that the plot of "The Quest" is much like typical high fantasy conventions. For one thing, this quest is of a much more personal nature than the journeys in high fantasy novels. To some degree, every adventure-quest plot is a personal pilgrimage. The plot of the novel, however, is more concerned with apocalyptic struggles and the fate of its imaginery world than with the fate of its protagonist's heart.

The individ…

The Anomalous Archive, Part X: 'Mars Deep-Crust Mine ZB203-South' by P.A. Baines

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on June 1, 2010.]

"Mars Deep-Crust Mine ZB203-South," 1st in Issue 4 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Here we have the most explicitly evangelistic short story yet published in The Cross and the Cosmos. "Mars Deep-Crust Mine ZB203-South" by P.A. Baines presents a picture of the hopelessness of life and eternity without God. An interesting quality about this story is that it could be said to belong to two genres. It does not have characters of two genres in its setting (for instance, elves in space), nor is it intermediate between two genres. I say that it belongs to two genres because the setting and the means of storytelling are typical of two different genres. The author classified his work as Christian speculative/horror, probably based on his technique and plot devices. Such a classification fits (although I don't think the tone of the writing is typical of horror), but the setting is obvious…

The Anomalous Archive, Part XI: 'Souls are Wild' by Cathrine Bonham

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on June 2, 2010.]

"Souls are Wild," 2nd in Issue 4 of The Cross and the Cosmos

A piece of literature that sheds as much light on the human condition and the common human experience so succinctly as does "Souls are Wild" by Catherine Bonham is a rare treasure. What is the common human experience but the continual quest to recover our true selves, to be the people that we know we were meant to be but can never become? Perhaps all literature, or at least all honest literature, takes us on that quest, revealing something of the Person who supplies the answer.

This epic short story makes excellent use of the conventions of low fantasy to produce its profound analogy to the human condition. I say "low fantasy", because I don't know the stricter genre classifications, and because the high/low fantasy designation speaks more of technique than of setting. The author uses unexplainable superna…

The Anomalous Archive, Part IX: 'Suicidal Impact' by KM Wilsher

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 16, 2010.]

"Suicidal Impact," 3rd of Issue 3 of The Cross and the Cosmos

This short story packs an amazing amount of both content and meaning into its two pages. I think that "Suicidal Instinct" is best appreciated after having been read through at least twice, which its small size allows. Even though it is completely linear, so many details of the genre-defying setting are introduced, going against preconceived expectations, that it requires strict attention to follow, especially in light of the significant moral messages that the story explicitly puts forward.

I'm sure that KM Wilsher isn't the first author to freely mix gothic fantasy and science fiction, but I haven't personally read any fiction with the same crossing of genres. Mention is explicitly made to the old vampire tradition, and I suspect that this short story is influenced by the modern vampire novel, but I haven&…

The Anomalous Archive, Part VIII: 'Sunset Over Gunther'

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 15, 2010.]
"Sunset Over Gunther," 2nd in Issue 3 of The Cross and the Cosmos
The experience of reading "Sunset Over Gunther" was one of constantly changing expectations for me. The modern-sounding first-person narrative voice had me expecting some sort of irony at first, perhaps even a parody of the high fantasy genre. The title as well as some small details seemed to confirm this first impression as I started reading, but I think I misinterpreted. Doubtlessly, the colorful, modern-sounding narrative voice was intentional, but there is no parody in this story! On the contrary, "Sunset Over Gunther" is grimly serious, without so much as any indisputable comic relief to soften it. It is truly epic fantasy in every conceivable way.

Another way that this short story surprised me was its length. Perhaps it is longer than average for the stories that have so far been submitted to The Cross and the Co…

The Anomalous Archive, Part VII: 'Fungus Among Us' by Grace Bridges

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 12, 2010.]

"Fungus Among Us," 1st in Issue 3 of The Cross and the Cosmos

"Fungus Among Us" by Grace Bridges essentially deals with one strange science fiction phenomenon. In other words, this short story is the sort of speculative fiction that explores a bizzare occurance, asking "What if there were...," rather than the more common type that asks, "What if in such a world..." I don't know much about the classification of the many genres of science fiction, so I can't really say what species this story belongs to. However, if it were fantasy instead of science fiction, I would call it "low fantasy" as opposed to "high fantasy."

However, in the case of this well-crafted little short story, the difference between the two types of speculative fiction is not so clear cut. Even though the purpose of the story is basically to present a bizzare occur…

The Anomalous Archive, Part VI: 'Power of a Name' by Avily Jerome

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 9, 2010.]

"Power of a Name," 3rd in Issue 2 of The Cross and the Cosmos

Out of all the stories in the first two issues of The Cross and the Cosmos that I've read, "Power of a Name" by Avily Jerome uses the modern conventions of popular high fantasy the most. Those who have read a series or two of recent secular high fantasy will recognize the magical-psychological bond right away, which takes different forms in different fantasies. In "Power of a Name," the fantasy convention of the magical-psychological bond (I can't think of a better term for it) takes place between humanoids (not between humanoids and dragon-like creatures as in many fantasies) and only transmits emotions and feelings (thus not allowing mental communication) while somehow physically strengthening both of the parties. This is also more or less how the Warder bond works in The Wheel of Time series.

"…

The Anomalous Archive, Part V: 'Ley of the Minstrel' by G.L. Francis.

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 5, 2010.]

"Ley of the Minstrel," 2nd in Issue 2 of The Cross and the Cosmos

With "Ley of the Minstrel" by G.L. Francis, we at last venture into the world of Dias-Domhan, one of the Twin Universes that were invented for The Cross and the Cosmos. There could not have been a better story to break the path to this uncharted realm for us!

A lovely example of high fantasy, "The Ley of the Minstrel" paints a romantic artwork from the material given on the website of The Cross and the Cosmos. Most significantly, G.L. Francis developed culture and customs for the enigmatic elves, which are barely mentioned in passing on the webpage. Even some work on the elvish languages or dialects is presented. Also, an interesting scenario of elven-human relations is suggested, with intermarriage between the races seemingly fairly common despite widespread misunderstanding and hatred on the part of other h…

The Anomalous Archive, Part IV: 'Christmas Time' by Kersley Fitzgerald

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 1, 2010.]

"Christmas Time," 1st in Issue 2 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The first short story in the second issue of The Cross and the Cosmos is another deeply-implemented science fiction diversion. "Christmas Time" by Kersley Fitzgerald sets a family situation that can easily be related to within a deeply speculative, mythopoeic version of the future, complete with legendary figures of the past and inherited abilities. The result is quite strange. In some ways, the scene feels very familiar, and the customs and public appearance of the futuristic society seem much too similar to contemporary American culture. However, other aspects of the setting are extremely speculative. In fact, it strikes me as a bit unorthodox to set seasonal holiday fiction in such a far-removed setting in the first place.

Actually, there is no one element that stands out as particularly bizarre about the worldbuil…

The Anomalous Archive, Part III: 'Wind Farm Annie' by Tony Lavoie

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on March 24, 2010.]

"Wind Farm Annie," the third story in Issue 1 of The Cross and the Cosmos

This short story by Tony Lavoie is very professional and intricate. The setting, the characters, and the theme are all carefully constructed. The worldbuilding, an important aspect in all science fiction and fantasy, is particularly interesting. Much thought has gone into the history, technology, and features of the setting of a futuristic colonized solar system. Only a glimpse here and there of the rich setting comes into play in "Wind Farm Annie." The depth of the setting was not made up on the fly in order to incorporate the story. The reader is left with many tantalizing hints of the sci-fi background, leaving much room for speculation. The author may or may not have envisioned specific details to fill in all the unanswered questions, but he certainly constructed the imaginary future thoroughly.

As …

The Anomalous Archive, Part II: 'The Death of Man' by Cris Jesse

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on March 16, 2010.]

"The Death of Man," 2nd in Issue 1 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The second short story in the first issue of The Cross and the Cosmos moves quickly. "The Death of Man" by Cris Jesse packs a surprising amount of complexity into a short-story plotline. No fewer than five characters are developed in the story's seventeen pages -- three good characters, and two villains. Much conflict naturally arises out of all this characterization. The ability of the author to portray such an intricate web of character and conflict with relatively few words may be this story's greatest strength.

Another strength is the mood produced by the Post-Apocalyptic atmosphere. This "apocalypse" is not the literal Apocalypse foretold in Revelation; the story is not end-times fiction. However, the setting of a community deliberately patterned on the Holy Bible in the face of the near-exti…

The Anomalous Archive, Part I: 'The Bravest Fell' by G.L. Francis

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on March 16, 2010.]

"The Bravest Fell," 1st in Issue 1 of The Cross and the Cosmos

The Cross and the Cosmos draws its first breath with a lovely piece that really expresses the essence of what Christian speculative fiction is. This is not to say that "The Bravest Fell" by Glynda Francis is typical of what we think of as "speculative fiction"; it is not. The story actually is speculative in the literal sense of the word, not just as a genre label.

The most strikingly speculative feature of "The Bravest Fell" is that it is written in a sort of poetic meter containing rhymes based on approximately eight stressed syllables, the words containing the fourth and the eighth stressed syllable rhyming with each other. It is not formatted as a poem. The writing is contained in short paragraphs of highly-poetic prose, most of which seem to be set in a specific symmetrical form, being almo…